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Moscow in Winter: a vibrant city of beauty and elegance (PHOTOS)

Personal impression of Moscow as Russia exits recession is a thriving, beautiful and increasingly elegant city.

Alexander Mercouris




As followers of The Duran will have noticed, I recently spent a week in Moscow.

Most of my time there inevitably was taken up with work on The Duran.  It was thrilling to meet my colleagues there.  This is the first time since The Duran was founded that all four of us – Alex Christoforou, Peter Lavelle, Vladimir Rodzianko and myself – were all gathered together in one place.  It was my first opportunity to meet Sergey Gladysh, our managing editor.

The highlight of the visit was The Duran’s launch party, followed swiftly after by our first live Q&A session. 

Both were hugely stimulating and exciting events.  It was wonderful to see the interest and support The Duran has generated in the few months since we started.  It was especially thrilling to meet with our readers and – during the Q&A session – to respond to their questions.

Time constraints – including a flying visit to Greece directly after my trip to Moscow – made it impossible for me to follow up – and properly thank – all the people I met in Moscow.  Rest assured that it is now my priority.

Though the trip to Moscow was first and foremost a business visit, it also gave me a good opportunity to get a feel of the state of the city as winter approaches and as Russia comes out of recession.

The word “elegant” is not one that is generally associated with Moscow, and yet in my opinion it is the one that best matches the direction in which the city is evolving.

If one’s taste – like mine – runs to art deco, then Moscow is the art deco capital par excellence.  I say this because in my opinion what is generally called ‘Stalinist architecture’ – which actually lasted for several years after Stalin’s death – is more properly called Russian art deco. 

Moreover it is art deco done with extraordinary conviction and flair.  The centre of Moscow is full of it.   The seven great Stalinist skyscrapers (“the Seven Sisters”) and the Moscow Metro are internationally the most famous examples, but by no means the only ones or even necessarily the best.  Indeed if I had to say what I think is perhaps the most remarkable example of Russian art deco, then it would be the great exhibition area VDNKh – complete with Vera Mukhina’s iconic statue of a worker and farmer holding aloft the hammer and sickle – which is currently in the last stages of a major renovation.

vdnkh_fountain_pavilionWhat however gives Moscow such a strong art deco flavour is not that it is the style used for some of the great buildings.  Rather it is that it is the architectural style chosen for so many of the great apartment buildings not just in the city’s centre but in its inner suburbs. 

dsc_2066-4b4ca16c-largeThese apartment buildings – with their fine apartments with their amazingly tall ceilings, and with their leafy courtyards with their parking and their ample children’s play areas – are some of the most handsome apartment buildings in the world, and there seem to be thousands of them.  A suburb I visited – Sokol – seemed to be composed entirely of them.

Interspersed amongst these art deco apartment buildings are parks – of which Moscow seems to have a prodigious number – certain quarters towards the centre which still retain a distinctly nineteenth century character (especially in the area close to the Kremlin), and a surprisingly large number of very fine art nouveau and modernist buildings from the period just before the First World War and from the 1920s. 

Gorky House

Gorky House

The large number of 1920s modernist (“Constructivist”) buildings – of which the most famous is Lenin’s tomb – is especially surprising, though many of them are in poor condition.  Moscow compares very well in this respect with other European cities.  By way of example, very close to my hotel in the Arbat there was a remarkable cylindrical Constructivist town house built by the architect Konstantin Melnikov.

Cylindrical Constructivist townhouse

Cylindrical Constructivist townhouse

“Renovation” is perhaps the best word to describe what is currently happening to Moscow, and it is being conducted at a frenetic pace that to someone used to the infinitely slower pace now common in the West is quite dizzying.

Since the summer most of the sidewalks in the centre of the city have been widened – making the city far friendlier and more accessible to pedestrians – and there seems to have been a blizzard of tree planting, making what will be an already very green city even greener.

I use the future tense because when I arrived Moscow was covered by its first snow, and one day the temperature fell to -8 degrees centigrade.  That meant that there was little green, but one is more than compensated by the snow, which at this early stage in winter gives Moscow its beautiful winter coat.

At this point I should say that people who have never been to Moscow and who have heard frightening stories of the cold should put those fears aside.  Not only are the heating systems exceptionally efficient, but the dry climate makes the cold and the snow not just bearable but actually stimulating – rather like drinking champagne.  Suffice to say that I find that London’s damp and humid climate makes the cold there far more difficult to bear, even though the thermometer in London rarely falls below zero.

The combination of pristine art deco architecture and sparkling snow is magical, and the extraordinary colour of much of the architecture – especially of the churches of which there are scores – adds to the beautiful picture.


The renovation I spoke of has however played a major part in bringing these qualities out. Compared to the Moscow of the 1990s and the early 2000s, which I remember only too well, the transformation has been astonishing. 

The ugly advertisements which had proliferated have disappeared – including completely from the Metro.   The tacky kiosks have gone.  There is barely any graffiti, and the streets are not only entirely free of litter but seem almost polished.

Some areas like Novy Arbat – which in the 1990s had become a profoundly horrible gambling district – have been transformed, becoming an actually very pleasant entertainment district with dozens of fine bars, cafes, shops (including book and electronic shops) and restaurants.


Novy Arbat Street at night

Our contributor James Bradley recently wrote a piece for The Duran in which he spoke with wonder of the beautiful orderliness of Moscow and of the absence of potholes there. 

Not only do I agree with this picture but as a brief visitor James Bradley was of course unable to see what a pleasant – as opposed to a merely beautiful – city Moscow has become.

The days when Moscow and indeed Russia were a byword for bad food and slovenly service are long gone.  The place has proliferated with cafes, restaurants and bars, and it is now even possible to talk of places that actually offer fine dining for those who want it, whilst the service I experienced in every place I went was excellent. 


Interestingly in one place the waiter was careful to warn me (in English) that the price on the menu (in Russian) of the steak I had ordered was its price according to weight.  An actual portion would weigh three times as much and would therefore cost three times more.  I had already worked it out but I was nonetheless impressed that the waiter thought fit to tell me about it.  I can think of many other places where a waiter would not have done so.

To those incidentally brought up with stories of Russian food being only boiled cabbage and meatballs, I would say that it is actually one of the most distinctive cuisines of Europe, and there are now plenty of places in Moscow where one can sample it in all its variety – from the traditional, to the form which would once have been familiar in Moscow restaurants just before the Revolution, to the ultra-modern of today.

In addition to Russian food there is also an abundance of other cuisines to choose from, from the ubiquitous sushi, to Caucasian and Central Asian cuisines which are barely known in the West, to excellent Indian and Chinese food, and of course to every conceivable variety of Western food including German, Italian and French. 

The Duran’s launch party incidentally was held in a Lebanese restaurant where the food was excellent.

As for the notorious Soviet “bifsteks” (actually a meatball) Moscow is now currently in the throes of a ferocious ‘burger war’ between competing chains (some of them very good), and there is now excellent home grown steak in many places.

One feature of dining in Moscow which has not changed is that one is still far more likely to have live music in a Moscow restaurant than for example in London, and this music is often not just a quiet piano but a singer with a group.  I rather enjoy the experience but for those who don’t there are plenty of quieter places to choose from.

If the bar, cafe and restaurant scene is transformed, then Moscow still retains its colossal legacy of theatres, concert halls, ballet and opera houses etc, to an extent possibly unmatched by any other capital.  Lovers (like me) of classical music should know that it is taken more seriously in Moscow – with more concerts, venues, advertising and performance – than in any other capital I know (except possibly Vienna) and that the standard of performance is outstanding.

Over and above these activities and the enormous number of fine museums and art galleries one can visit, some of which like the Tretyakov and the Pushkin can compare with the best in the world, Moscow by all accounts continues to have a vibrant nightlife, though one which I am no longer fully up to partaking in.

For those interested in experiencing the full life of Moscow I would add that the best time to visit Moscow is in the autumn and winter months, since it is then that its various scenes (including by the way the Bolshoi) are most busy.

I of course do not want to deny the continuing problems. 

Traffic congestion remains appalling, and caused me to be an hour and a half late for a dinner appointment on the day of my arrival. 

Retail activity in the shops is still well below where it was before the start of the recession, and that fact is reflected in the statistics.

However overall, not only has Moscow come through the recession well, but as a properly managed recession should be this one has been beneficial, clearing out some of the uglier and less sustainable manifestations of life that were previously there.

In summary, as Moscow along with the rest of Russia comes out of recession, I have never seen it look so well.

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Fake news media FREAK OUT over Trump and NATO (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 172.

Alex Christoforou



The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the media meltdown over remarks that U.S. President Trump may have made with regard to NATO, and how neo-liberal war hawks championing the alliance as some sort of foreign policy projection of peace and democracy, are really just supporting aggression, war, and the eventual weakening of the United States.

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Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO, Authored by David Swanson:

The New York Times loves NATO, but should you?

Judging by comments in social media and the real world, millions of people in the United States have gone from having little or no opinion on NATO, or from opposing NATO as the world’s biggest military force responsible for disastrous wars in places like Afghanistan (for Democrats) or Libya (for Republicans), to believing NATO to be a tremendous force for good in the world.

I believe this notion to be propped up by a series of misconceptions that stand in dire need of correction.

1. NATO is not a war-legalizing body, quite the opposite. NATO, like the United Nations, is an international institution that has something or other to do with war, but transferring the UN’s claimed authority to legalize a war to NATO has no support whatsoever in reality. The crime of attacking another nation maintains an absolutely unaltered legal status whether or not NATO is involved. Yet NATO is used within the U.S. and by other NATO members as cover to wage wars under the pretense that they are somehow more legal or acceptable. This misconception is not the only way in which NATO works against the rule of law. Placing a primarily-U.S. war under the banner of NATO also helps to prevent Congressional oversight of that war. Placing nuclear weapons in “non-nuclear” nations, in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, is also excused with the claim that the nations are NATO members (so what?). And NATO, of course, assigns nations the responsibility to go to war if other nations go to war — a responsibility that requires them to be prepared for war, with all the damage such preparation does.

2. NATO is not a defensive institution. According to the New York Times, NATO has “deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.” This is an article of faith, based on the unsubstantiated belief that Soviet and Russian aggression toward NATO members has existed for 70 years and that NATO has deterred it rather than provoked it. In violation of a promise made, NATO has expanded eastward, right up to the border of Russia, and installed missiles there. Russia has not done the reverse. The Soviet Union has, of course, ended. NATO has waged aggressive wars far from the North Atlantic, bombing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. NATO has added a partnership with Colombia, abandoning all pretense of its purpose being in the North Atlantic. No NATO member has been attacked or credibly threatened with attack, apart from small-scale non-state blowback from NATO’s wars of aggression.

3. Trump is not trying to destroy NATO. Donald Trump, as a candidate and as U.S. President, has wondered aloud and even promised all kinds of things and, in many cases, the exact opposite as well. When it comes to actions, Trump has not taken any actions to limit or end or withdraw from NATO. He has demanded that NATO members buy more weapons, which is of course a horrible idea. Even in the realm of rhetoric, when European officials have discussed creating a European military, independent of the United States, Trump has replied by demanding that they instead support NATO.

4. If Trump were trying to destroy NATO, that would tell us nothing about NATO. Trump has claimed to want to destroy lots of things, good and bad. Should I support NAFTA or corporate media or the Cold War or the F35 or anything at all, simply because some negative comment about it escapes Trump’s mouth? Should I cheer for every abuse ever committed by the CIA or the FBI because they investigate Trump? Should I long for hostility between nuclear-armed governments because Democrats claim Trump is a Russian agent? When Trump defies Russia to expand NATO, or to withdraw from a disarmament treaty or from an agreement with Iran, or to ship weapons to Ukraine, or to try to block Russian energy deals in Europe, or to oppose Russian initiatives on banning cyber-war or weapons in space, should I cheer for such consistent defiance of Trump’s Russian master, and do so simply because Russia is, so implausibly, his so-inept master? Or should I form my own opinion of things, including of NATO?

5. Trump is not working for, and was not elected by, Russia.According to the New York Times, “Russia’s meddling in American elections and its efforts to prevent former satellite states from joining the alliance have aimed to weaken what it views as an enemy next door, the American officials said.” But are anonymous “American officials” really needed to acquire Russia’s openly expressed opinion that NATO is a threatening military alliance that has moved weapons and troops to states on Russia’s border? And has anyone produced the slightest documentation of the Russian government’s aims in an activity it has never admitted to, namely “meddling in American elections,” — an activity the United States has of course openly admitted to in regard to Russian elections? We have yet to see any evidence that Russia stole or otherwise acquired any of the Democratic Party emails that documented that party’s rigging of its primary elections in favor of Clinton over Sanders, or even any claim that the tiny amount of weird Facebook ads purchased by Russians could possibly have influenced the outcome of anything. Supposedly Trump is even serving Russia by demanding that Turkey not attack Kurds. But is using non-military means to discourage Turkish war-making necessarily the worst thing? Would it be if your favorite party or politician did it? If Trump encouraged a Turkish war, would that also be a bad thing because Trump did it, or would it be a bad thing for substantive reasons?

6. If Trump were elected by and working for Russia, that would tell us nothing about NATO. Imagine if Boris Yeltsin were indebted to the United States and ended the Soviet Union. Would that tell us whether ending the Soviet Union was a good thing, or whether the Soviet Union was obsolete for serious reasons? If Trump were a Russian pawn and began reversing all of his policies on Russia to match that status, including restoring his support for the INF Treaty and engaging in major disarmament negotiations, and we ended up with a world of dramatically reduced military spending and nuclear armaments, with the possibility of all dying in a nuclear apocalypse significantly lowered, would that too simply be a bad thing because Trump?

7. Russia is not a military threat to the world. That Russia would cheer NATO’s demise tells us nothing about whether we should cheer too. Numerous individuals and entities who indisputably helped to put Trump in the White House would dramatically oppose and others support NATO’s demise. We can’t go by their opinions either, since they don’t all agree. We really are obliged to think for ourselves. Russia is a heavily armed militarized nation that commits the crime of war not infrequently. Russia is a top weapons supplier to the world. All of that should be denounced for what it is, not because of who Russia is or who Trump is. But Russia spends a tiny fraction of what the United States does on militarism. Russia has been reducing its military spending each year, while the United States has been increasing its military spending. U.S. annual increases have sometimes exceeded Russia’s entire military budget. The United States has bombed nine nations in the past year, Russia one. The United States has troops in 175 nations, Russia in 3. Gallup and Pew find populations around the world viewing the United States, not Russia, as the top threat to peace in the world. Russia has asked to join NATO and the EU and been rejected, NATO members placing more value on Russia as an enemy. Anonymous U.S. military officials describe the current cold war as driven by weapons profits. Those profits are massive, and NATO now accounts for about three-quarters of military spending and weapons dealing on the globe.

8. Crimea has not been seized. According to the New York Times, “American national security officials believe that Russia has largely focused on undermining solidarity between the United States and Europe after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Its goal was to upend NATO, which Moscow views as a threat.” Again we have an anonymous claim as to a goal of a government in committing an action that never occurred. We can be fairly certain such things are simply made up. The vote by the people of Crimea to re-join Russia is commonly called the Seizure of Crimea. This infamous seizure is hard to grasp. It involved a grand total of zero casualties. The vote itself has never been re-done. In fact, to my knowledge, not a single believer in the Seizure of Crimea has ever advocated for re-doing the vote. Coincidentally, polling has repeatedly found the people of Crimea to be happy with their vote. I’ve not seen any written or oral statement from Russia threatening war or violence in Crimea. If the threat was implicit, there remains the problem of being unable to find Crimeans who say they felt threatened. (Although I have seen reports of discrimination against Tartars during the past 4 years.) If the vote was influenced by the implicit threat, there remains the problem that polls consistently get the same result. Of course, a U.S.-backed coup had just occurred in Kiev, meaning that Crimea — just like a Honduran immigrant — was voting to secede from a coup government, by no means an action consistently frowned upon by the United States.

9. NATO is not an engaged alternative to isolationism. The notion that supporting NATO is a way to cooperate with the world ignores superior non-deadly ways to cooperate with the world. A nonviolent, cooperative, treaty-joining, law-enforcing alternative to the imperialism-or-isolationism trap is no more difficult to think of or to act on than treating drug addiction or crime or poverty as reason to help people rather than to punish them. The opposite of bombing people is not ignoring them. The opposite of bombing people is embracing them. By the standards of the U.S. communications corporations Switzerland must be the most isolationist land because it doesn’t join in bombing anyone. The fact that it supports the rule of law and global cooperation, and hosts gatherings of nations seeking to work together is simply not relevant.

10. April 4 belongs to Martin Luther King, Jr., not militarism. War is a leading contributor to the growing global refugee and climate crises, the basis for the militarization of the police, a top cause of the erosion of civil liberties, and a catalyst for racism and bigotry. A growing coalition is calling for the abolition of NATO, the promotion of peace, the redirection of resources to human and environmental needs, and the demilitarization of our cultures. Instead of celebrating NATO’s 70thanniversary, we’re celebrating peace on April 4, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech against war on April 4, 1967, as well as his assassination on April 4, 1968.

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Turkey prepared to take Syria’s Manbij, won’t let it turn into ‘swamp’ like N. Iraq

Turkey sees the US-backed Kurdish YPG militias as an extension of the PKK and considers them terrorists as well.





Via RT

Ankara has “almost completed” preparations for another military operation in Syria and will launch it if “promises” made by other parties about the protection of its borders are not kept, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

Turkey still hopes that talks with the US, Russia and “other parties” will allow it to ensure its security without resorting to force but it is still ready to proceed with a military option and will not “wait forever,” Erdogan said. He was referring to Ankara’s plans for the northern Syrian territories east of the Euphrates River, which it seeks to turn into a “security zone”free of any Kurdish militias.

“We are on our border with our forces and following developments closely. If promises made to us are kept and the process goes on, that’s fine. Otherwise, we inform that we have almost completed our preparations and will take steps in line with our own strategy,” the president said, addressing a group of businessmen in Ankara on Monday.

He did not elaborate on the promises made. However, they are apparently linked to the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG militia from the Manbij area and the regions along the border with Turkey. “We will never allow a safe zone to turn into a new swamp,” Erdogan said, referring to the northern Syrian territories and comparing them to the northern Iraq, where the militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – an organization that Ankara considers a terrorist group – have been entrenched for decades.

Turkey sees the US-backed Kurdish YPG militias, which form the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as an extension of the PKK and considers them terrorists as well. “Our proposal for a security zone under Turkey’s control aims to keep terror organizations away from our borders,” the Turkish president said.

He went on to explain that Ankara does not seek any territorial gains in its military campaigns in Syria but merely seeks to restore order in the war-ravaged country. “We will provide security for Manbij and then we will hand over the city to its real owners,” Erdogan said. “Syria belongs to Syrians.”

Turkey also seeks to establish a “security zone 20 miles [32 kilometers] deep” into Syria, Erdogan said, adding that he already discussed this issue with the US President Donald Trump. “Those who insistently want to keep us away from these regions are seeking to strengthen terror organizations,” he added.

Ankara has been long planning to push YPG units out of the area east of the Euphrates River. Its operation was delayed by the US withdrawal from Syria. However, Erdogan repeatedly hinted that his patience is wearing thin and he is not ready to wait much longer. He warned Trump against backtracking on his pledge to withdraw some 2,000 US forces out of Syria following a suicide attack in Manbij that killed four Americans. If the US president halted the withdrawal, it would mean that Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) had won, Erdogan argued.

He has also reiterated that Turkey is ready to take over Manbij “without delay.” The US military is currently working on security arrangements with the Turkish forces to create a buffer zone between Turkey and the Kurdish fighters. The Kurds, meanwhile, invited the Syrian government to take over the city and have reportedly begun to leave the area. Turkey has dismissed the reports saying its a “psyop”.

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Political Knives Dull Themselves on the Rock of Brexit Article 50

The invocation of Article 50 was undertaken by an act of Parliament. And it will take another act of Parliament to undo it.

Strategic Culture Foundation



Authored Tom Luongo via Strategic Culture Foundation:

Theresa “The Gypsum Lady” May went through an extraordinary twenty-four hours. First, seeing her truly horrific Brexit deal go down in historic defeat and then, somehow, surviving a ‘No-Confidence’ vote which left her in a stronger position than before it.

It looks like May rightly calculated that the twenty or so Tory Remainers would put party before the European Union as their personal political positions would be terminally weakened if they voted her out of office.

While there is little stomach in the British Parliament for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, there is less for allowing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister. And that is the crux of why the incessant calls to delay Brexit, call for a ‘people’s vote’ or, in Corbyn’s case, “take a no-deal Brexit off the table,’ ultimately lead to a whole lot of political knife-fighting and very little substantive action.

The day-to-day headline spam is designed to wear down people’s resistance and make it feel like Brexit getting betrayed is inevitable. That has been the British Deep State’s and EU’s game plan all along and they hoped they could arm-twist enough people in parliament to succeed.

But the problem for them now, since the clock has nearly run out, is the invocation of Article 50 was undertaken by an act of Parliament. And it will take another act of Parliament to undo it.

And I don’t see anyone on the Remainer side working towards that end. That should be your clue as to what happens next.

Why? Because they know they don’t have the time to get that act past Parliament. So, the rest of this is simply a PR campaign to push public opinion far enough to allow for an illegal canceling or postponing of Brexit.

But it’s not working.

According to the latest polls, Brits overwhelmingly want the original Brexit vote respectedLeave even has a 5-6 point lead over Remain.

And, I think Theresa May now realizes this. It is why she invited the no-confidence vote against her. She knew she had the votes and it would give her the ammunition to ignore Corbyn’s hysterical ranting about taking a no-deal Brexit off the table.

Whether she realizes that the only negotiating tool she has with the EU is the threat of a No-Deal Brexit, exactly like Nigel Farage and those committed to Brexit have been telling her for two years is still, however, up in the air.

It looks like she’s finally starting to get it.

The net result is we are seeing a similar outing of the nefarious, behind-the-scenes, power brokers in the public eye similar to what’s been happening in the US with Donald Trump and Russiagate.

May has been singularly unimpressive in her handling of Brexit. I’ve been convinced from the beginning that betraying Brexit was always her goal. Negotiating a deal unacceptable to anyone was meant to exhaust everyone into the position to just throwing up their hands and canceling the whole thing.

The EU has been in the driver’s seat the entire time because most of the British establishment has been on their side and it was only the people who needed to be disrespected.

So, after all of these shananigans we are back to where we were last week. May has cut off all avenues of discussion. She won’t commit to taking ‘no-deal’ off the table to tweak Corbyn. She won’t substantively move on any other issue. This is likely to push her deal through as a last-minute panic move.

Corbyn is still hoping to get new elections to take power, and the majority of MP’s who don’t want to leave the EU keep fighting among themselves to cock up the entire works.

All they are doing is expending pound after pound of political capital beating themselves against their own act of Parliament which goes into effect on March 29th.

By the time that date comes around the frustration, shame and humiliation of how Parliament has mishandled Brexit will make it difficult for a lot of Remainers to hold together their majority as public opinion has decidedly turned against them.

In the past the EU has had that façade of democratic support undermining any change at the political level. With Brexit (and with budget talks in Italy) that is not the case. The people are angry.

The peak moment for Remainers to stage a bipartisan political coup against May should have been the most recent no-confidence vote.

With May surviving that it implies that Remainers are not willing to die politically for their cause.

This should begin to see defectors over the next couple of weeks as they realize they don’t have a hand to play either.

And by May refusing to rule out a ‘no-deal’ Brexit it has finally brought the EU around to throw a bone towards the British. Their admitting they would extend Article 50 is just that. But they know that’s a non-starter as that is the one thing May has been steadfast in holding to.

On March 29th with or without a deal the U.K. is out of the EU. Because despite the European Court of Justice’s decision, Britain’s parliament can only cancel Article 50 at this point by acting illegally.

Not that I would put that past these people, but then that opens up a can of worms that most British MP’s will not go along with. The personal stakes are simply too high.

When dealing with politicians, never bet against their vanity or their pocketbook. In May’s case she may finally have realized she could have the legacy of getting Britain out of the EU just before it collapses.

And all she has to do between now and the end of March is, precisely, nothing.

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